A cowbell — that’s what my mother used to call us to dinner after an afternoon (and, sometimes, early evening) of play. Bent, rusted, big, and loud, it rang from the back stoop, beckoning my brothers and me from the backyard or from an even more wild and wonderful place behind our house: a place we called, simply, “The Lot.”
The Lot was a weedy ..well, a weedy mess, really. It was the drain field for the subdivision behind us. And I’m sure it was filled with ticks and chiggers and poison ivy and snakes. And, of course, we loved it. We played baseball there in the summer, and when it rained a great deal, as it tended to do sometimes in St. Louis, The Lot would fill up with water and become a lake. (Probably a dirty, germ-laden, storm sewer of a lake, but a “lake,” nonetheless.)
I thought about “The Lot” today as I read a news release from the Alliance for Children on the importance of free play — both at home and at school — and its central role in fighting a childhood obesity epidemic that has become a cause célèbre for Michelle Obama and many advocacy groups, including NSBA.
“We’re delighted that Michelle Obama has taken up this issue as her major focus as First Lady,” said Joan Almon, the Alliance’s executive director. “Efforts to reverse the obesity epidemic have until now focused almost entirely on nutrition and physical activity with disappointing results. The missing ingredient in this recipe is play — good, old-fashioned, child-initiated play, the kind that used to keep children moving and active for hours each day.”
I think the Alliance, which has long opposed cutbacks in recess, is on to something. Its views were recently supported in a survey of elementary school principals. And now it may find an ally in the First Lady herself.
We don’t have a “Lot” where we live now, on a relatively busy street in Arlington, Va. The street is fairly wide, has no sidewalks, and serves as a “cut through” for two even busier roads. We let our children play in the backyard; we’re more cautious about the front. We live in a different time, when kids spend hours on computers, and parents (myself included) fret too much about the dangers beyond their front doors.
We can’t turn back the clock, but we can listen to what the Alliance has to say and offer our children more of the kind of unstructured fun we enjoyed.
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor